Six Tips for Kicking Your Holiday Sugar Addiction

Two registered dietitians on how you can kick your sweet tooth.

After weeks of binging on candy and hitting the office treat tray hard, sugar is likely an all-too-large food group in your diet right now—so large, in fact, that you may be addicted.

“Sugar, when eaten in high amounts, causes the reward areas of your brain to release chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, the very same action as drugs and alcohol,” explains Nancy Oliveira, senior nutritionist at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. “The result is pure pleasure that makes you want more and more.”

Now that holiday sweets season is coming to an end, we asked Oliveira and fellow Boston-based nutritionist Lauren Mayer how you can kick your sugar addiction.

1. Don’t skip meals. When your blood sugars drop for too long, you’re vulnerable to overeating when you do finally eat,” Oliveira explains. Logically, you’re also more likely to crave sweets when blood sugar levels crash. Both she and Mayer recommend eating a meal or snack that contains complex carbohydrates and protein, like avocado toast or an apple with walnuts, every four hours.

2. Hydrate. The body often mistakes thirst for hunger, so keep sipping. “A dip in energy caused by dehydration may be mistakenly perceived by your body as a need for quick calories that are perfectly packaged in a sugary treat,” Mayer says.

3. If you crave sweet, eat tart. Oliveira admits that this tip is more anecdotal than research-backed, but she recommends eating tart or sour foods, like plain Greek yogurt or water with lemon juice, whenever a dessert craving hits.

4. Reduce sugar consumption across the board. Desserts aren’t the only culprit behind your sugar addiction—you’ll also ease longings for sugar if you begin cutting it out of your beverages and meals. “Extra credit for reducing other sweet foods in your diet, such as all juice, honey, and any sweeteners in your coffee,” Mayer says. “It takes about five days for your body to stop intensely craving sugar once you cut it out. Consider it a tastebud reset.”

5. Get serotonin without snacking. When you’re dying for a cookie, you can get the same reward boost in other ways. “Flooding your system with serotonin in healthy ways, such as exercise, talking to a friend, or volunteering, can give you that boost you need,” Mayer says.

6. Don’t torture yourself. If you’ve tried it all but can’t get ice cream off your mind, it’s not the end of the world to give in. “Deprivation only fuels a craving,” Oliveira says. “But keep the portion small and savor, don’t gulp.”